The Saratoga Automobile Museum

Though primarily a car museum (and I’m a car nut as well as into bikes), what drew me to this particular museum at this particular time was a BMW exhibit they have going through the next several months.  BMW makes both cars and motorcycles, and historic examples of both were well represented here.  I think I’ll just let the pictures do most of the talking here.

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I was greeted by this 1925 R32, the first vehicle BMW ever made, in all of its 500cc, 8.5 horsepower glory. It’s 88 years old, yet it still has the familiar boxer motor that BMW has always used, as well as shaft drive. In fact, this is the first shaft drive motorcycle ever.  Many of my bikes, including my Silverwing and the PC800 that I rode to the museum, are also shaft drive.  The origin of all of these, despite the different manufacturers, is right here.

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There was no information about this particular bike, but it’s from the early 1930s and a similar design. You can walk all around it, and this photo shows the shaft drive a bit more clearly.

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They got a little bigger over the years, but the basic design didn’t change much. This 1942 R12 is literally a barn find. It was originally privately owned, but the German army commandeered it when the war wasn’t going well and gave it a new paint job. It was found abandoned in a barn in France in the mid 1990s, and, as you can tell, has not been restored.IMG_0748

This 1969 R60/2 Polizei was, obviously, a police bike. The consistency of the design through more than 40 years of production amazes me, though many of the details have changed.

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I could see myself tripping on something like this R100RT someday, though it’s not nearly as practical as my PC800.

There are more bikes there, and a great display detailing the extensive history of BMW motorcycle design, evolution, racing, and so on. It’s well worth the visit, even if you’re not interested in the cars.  I am interested in the cars, so on to them.

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This Isetta has to be in the best condition I’ve ever seen one. It was BMW’s first car after the war, powered by a motorcycle engine.

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The 3.0 CSL, a.k.a. “the Batmobile.” This was the beginning of BMW’s Motorsport division, which has made all of the M cars. This car was a very successful racer in its time.

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As is this modern M3, which has won a lot of American LeMans races in recent history.

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This is the M1 than Andy Warhol painted. Though he’s been accused of sometimes not doing his own work, this video shows him painting this very car himself, and signing the rear bumper with his finger. It raced at LeMans in 1979, placing 6th overall and 2nd in class. This car is valued at $100 million. That’s not a Dr. Evil exaggeration.

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A much earlier race car – a BMW 328. I was surprised how it was nearly identical to the strictly street car parked next to it. And safety equipment? Ha! That’s for wusses.

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It’s about the size of a Miata, and has plastic body panels like a Saturn, but the BMW Z1 came before either of these cars. Only 8000 were made, and none were officially imported into the U.S. Clearly this one made it somehow. The doors slide down into the rocker panel – the passenger door on this car is “open.”IMG_0761

This is one of my dream cars – a 1972 BMW 2002tii.  (I’d prefer a 1973 model, but beggars can’t be choosers.) I almost bought a 1973 2002 once, but my 1983 320i got jealous and ate all the money I’d had for the ’02. That’s my “one that got away.” Very fun cars to drive, though.

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Upstairs was an interesting exhibit on racing in New York state. New York has a very rich racing history, with many tracks back in the day. Watkins Glen was once on the Formula 1 circuit, and, despite containing right turns, is still on the NASCAR circuit today.

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The kid’s section had a Formula Vee that, unlike the other cars in the museum, kids can climb all over as they please.

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With a great deal of difficulty, I managed to lower myself into the car. Yes, this car is actually designed for adults! My shoulders barely fit below the roll cage, and I have absolutely no room to move. But for a race car, that’s good – despite the minimal accommodations, there’s nowhere for me to slide from side to side during hard cornering. All the controls are well placed, and the pedals allow for easy heel-toe downshifting.

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There were also many auto manufacturers in New York back into the day. This 1913 American Fiat Type 56 was the first production car built in New York. Rather than import cars from Italy, Fiat decided to build a plant in America and produce cars here to get into the market. A modern Fiat 500 would probably fit inside this car, not to mention the original 500.

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This 1928 Franklin Airman Series 12 Sport Sedan once belonged to Charles Lindburgh.

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And this Corvair once belonged to racer John Fitch.

Though small on the outside, the Saratoga Automobile Museum packs a lot of great cars and bikes inside. I highly recommend paying a visit if you’re in the area and into such things – which, since you’re reading this, presumably you are.

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